• 22,000 square feet
• 17 treatment rooms
• Six-bed clinical observation unit
• 50 specialists working in emergency care, with more expected to be added
• 15,000 estimated visits in first year
Source: Erlanger Health System
Before the big red ribbon was tied across the entrance of the new emergency center at Erlanger East and officials lined up to cut it Monday morning, patients had already checked in for treatment at the new facility on Gunbarrel Road.
The high demand for an ER in the East Hamilton County community is what makes the opening of the hospital's new 22,000-square-foot, $7.8 million expansion so momentous, hospital officials say.
"The most special thing about this location is the location," said Michael Baker, Erlanger facilities administrator. "This is something the community here has needed."
The new 24-hour center features 17 treatment rooms and a six-bed clinical observational unit. The department also provides full-service radiology, laboratory and respiratory services.
While the ER will be full service, it will not function as a trauma center. Those cases will continue to be treated at Erlanger's Baroness Campus on East Third Street.
Dr. Robert Hamilton, Erlanger's chief of emergency services, says the new center will help alleviate some of the volume of Erlanger's downtown emergency rooms, and help fill what he says is a geographical gap in emergency services.
"This is now the only full-service emergency room from Skyridge in Cleveland to Parkridge in East Ridge -- and that's it for East Hamilton County," Hamilton said.
The area serviced by Erlanger is one of the region's fastest-growing. Last fall, Erlanger officials estimated about 200,000 people live in the area served by Erlanger East, and they expect that number to climb to about 214,000 by 2014.
Officials estimate about 15,000 people will visit the new emergency room during its first year.
"When we first did our groundbreaking, we out banners up that said 'Opening Soon.' We had to take them down in less than a week because people were just pouring up here thinking the ER was open," said hospital spokeswoman Pat Charles.
Monday's ribbon-cutting was the fulfillment of a decade-long process that began when Erlanger's board approved the plan for the new department in 2003. The hospital finally broke ground on the project in August 2012.
The expansion is the latest step in Erlanger East's evolution from a women's specialty hospital to a more comprehensive hospital branch.
"We're more than a women's hospital," said Erlanger East administrator Theresa Radeker, listing the growing number of surgeries performed at East's facilities. "We're hoping we can meet the needs of all in the community, and not just a few."
While the new emergency room will take both children and adults, the hospital has made several rooms more kid-friendly with murals -- some that have even been color-coded to reflect charts used in emergency pediatric care.
Radeker also tried to give the new department a more warm and less clinical feel, with laminate flooring that resembles wood and warm wall colors.
But the new equipment and the polished furnishings are secondary to the roughly 50 specialists who will be working the new department, said Chief Medical Officer James Creel.
"We have this beautiful brick structure, this first-class structure, but the most important elements in this are our nurses, our techs and our physicians," said Creel. "East Chattanooga should be very, very excited about it."